Ron Nelson has led the way in the Angler of the Year race in the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit since the very early going. Now, with just one event left, he’s opened up a fairly massive gap between himself and the rest of the field. The final regular-season event is the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament out of Sandusky, Ohio, on Lake Erie. Certainly, a lot can happen on the Great Lakes, but given the angler in question, it’s hard to doubt Nelson’s ability to get the job done.
955 points – Ron Nelson
Ron Nelson is legitimately putting together a season for the ages, and it could be even better. At the Super Tournament on the Mississippi River, Nelson went into day three with a chance to win. Mechanical issues cost him time and the ability to lock up into Pool 7, so he sputtered a bit and finished 12th. Outside of a 41st-place showing at Chickamauga, it was his worst finish of the season.
Just a second-year pro, Nelson has a 73-point lead over fellow sophomore Jacob Wall. The year Mark Rose won AOY, he stumbled hard at St. Clair, finishing 67th, with Scott Martin and Bryan Thrift nipping at his heels. Nelson may well have an off tournament at Lake Erie, but his two worst finishes as a pro so far are 74th at Grand Lake and 120th in the first pro event he ever fished at Sam Rayburn. For someone behind him to actually catch him, he’s going to need to have one of the worst events of his career. Considering that Nelson has a way with smallmouths and hails from Michigan, the odds are certainly stacked in his favor going into the final event.
882 points – Jacob Wall
Another newer-to-the-Pro Circuit name at the top of the standings is Jacob Wall. A standout high school and college angler from Oregon, Wall moved to Alabama after qualifying for the FLW Tour in 2018. In his second year as a pro, Wall is continuing the trend of success.
This year, Wall hasn’t fished the final day of any event, but he’s been strikingly consistent, cashing a check every time out and finishing 22nd or better three times. With Nelson, there has never been any question he can compete with anyone, but Wall is part of a crop of young FLW anglers that haven’t been tested quite as much as some who came before. In the last two Super Tournaments, fishing against superlative talent, Wall has handily finished 53rd and 22nd.
Unfortunately for Wall, he has little to no Great Lakes experience and is chasing down Ron Nelson, who is amazing and literally lives within a few miles of Lake Michigan. While it’s mathematically possible, odds are that Wall will need to have almost the best tournament of his career to pull it off, and Nelson will need to falter. If he can manage to take down Nelson, it will be one of the great last-minute comebacks in fishing history.
873 points – Dylan Hays and Spencer Shuffield
Sitting 82 points behind Nelson and nine points behind Wall are Spencer Shuffield and Dylan Hays. Both from Arkansas, they’re really missing the Dardanelle event that was on the schedule at the start of the season, but they’re both doing great regardless.
Hays and Shuffield have come to the point of their careers where they’re contending for an AOY title in different ways, but there really aren’t any holes in their skill sets. Shuffield has a history of success across the board and a great pedigree. Hays is in his fourth year as a pro and really hasn’t had a bad season yet, even if this one is going better than any of the previous three.
Now, to relegate the duo to a battle for second place is perhaps a little hard, but they’re both likely to keep the pressure on regardless of their fate in the AOY race. Last time the FLW Tour visited St. Clair, Hays weighed over 95 pounds of smallmouth and finished second. In the 2012 FLW Tour Open on the Detroit River, Shuffield finished fourth. Suffice to say, they’re two Arkansas boys who love chasing smallmouths.
The rest of the pack
Now that we’re down to the wire, a comeback from anyone outside of the top couple of places would be a pretty impressive feat. Still, there are plenty of pros that might do very well regardless. Grae Buck and Matt Becker are chief among them – both are smallmouth experts and Becker’s home lake is actually Erie, albeit a little east of Sandusky.
In seventh and eighth in the standings, Bradford Beavers and Jon Canada are also eerily similar. The pair hail from the always stout Toyota Series Southeastern Division, and they’ve put together phenomenal seasons thus far. Both have limited smallie experience, but both of them are absolute fishing fiends.
The current top 10
1. Ron Nelson – Berrien Springs, Mich. – 955 points
2. Jacob Wall – New Hope, Ala. – 882
3. Spencer Shuffield – Hot Springs, Ark. – 873
4. Dylan Hays – El Dorado, Ark. – 873
5. Grae Buck – Green Lane, Pa. – 862
6. Matt Becker – Finleyville, Pa. – 856
7. Jon Canada – Helena, Ala. – 833
8. Bradford Beavers – Summerville, S.C. – 824
9. Matthew Stefan – Junction City, Wis. – 803
10. Scott Dobson – Clarkston, Mich. – 799